Why all Malaysians should try gardening: it's a full-body workout!


Learning to plant vegetables successfully takes a lot of trial and error and continuous knowledge-sharing with others, says Chan. Photo: Chan Li Jin

Urban farmer Chan Li Jin says planting vegetables isn’t merely about growing plants. From a health perspective, she says that it is actually a full-body exercise, requiring various muscle groups to squat, stand, lean, lift and much more.

“It also helps get people off their gadgets and into the outdoors for fresh air and sunshine! Moreover, tending to one’s garden, whether for edibles or ornamental plants, cultivates patience and perseverance,” said Chan, 52 who is from Rawang, KL.

Chan is the founder of social enterprise Subur Community Gardens (SCG). She says that she often tells people that their lives will never be the same once they have eaten something they have painstakingly planted themselves.

“Learning to plant greens successfully takes some trial and error and continuous knowledge-sharing with others. It’s much easier now than before, with many Facebook groups established for this purpose.

“Most people think it’s important to plant your own greens because you are assured that it is pesticide-free and organic. But I think this should not be a priority. People will get disappointed when their greens look less appetising than the ones sold in the markets,” explained the garden enthusiast and former health writer who founded SCG in 2012.

Community gardens are great initiatives for community development and social bonding. Photo: FilepicCommunity gardens are great initiatives for community development and social bonding. Photo: Filepic

She thinks the biggest misconception is that people who don’t have green fingers can’t plant their food.

“Humans have been programmed to cultivate plants since they stopped their nomadic ways and decided to stay at fertile locations.

“However, growing edibles does take far more effort than planting ornamental plants. Edible plants are typically heavy feeders and require far more fertilisers. Most newbie plant enthusiasts give up after a while when their vegetables fare poorly in size or face persistent pest attacks.

“Again this falls back on knowledge – understanding that most edible greens require hot sun, good soil, regular fertilising, and good seeds. So the conclusion is: Don’t stop learning and trying,” said Chan who co-founded an urban farm, Urban Hijau, in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Kuala Lumpur in 2016.

Balan says spinach and mustard greens and fruiting plants like okra and eggplant are suitable for beginners, like his daughter Gia. Photo: Balan Nadarajan Balan says spinach and mustard greens and fruiting plants like okra and eggplant are suitable for beginners, like his daughter Gia. Photo: Balan Nadarajan

Urban farmer Balan Nadarajan concurs, saying gardening really boils down to technique.

“Technically, 50% of success comes from starting with suitable soil, and another 30% comes from managing pests and diseases. The rest is effort,” he says.

He advises newbie urban farmers to start small.

“Learn the techniques first and get used to seeding, watering, fertilising and so on. Leafy greens like kangkung, spinach and mustard greens combined with fruiting plants like okra and eggplant are suitable for beginners. The secret is to harvest on time to avoid over-maturing. This way, you can have a continuous supply of vegetables. A vertical garden rack is a good choice for those with limited spaces.

“It is advisable to invest your money in good quality farming-grade gadgets and equipment so that they can last for many years.”

While community garden groups are great initiatives to increase access to fresh greens, Chan says it requires a lot of organising and planning to set these up.

“In permaculture, the critical basics to starting a garden/ farm are water, access and structures. This means checking whether the site has a water source. It must be easily accessible to the community and the farm site must also have facilities conducive for community activities, such as shelter, seats/rest huts and gathering spots.

“It would be advisable to get approval from the land owners (municipal councils, developers, or governmental agencies) before starting a community garden. Don’t risk losing your garden when the land is reclaimed for development purposes,” she advises

Chan adds that it is equally essential to rally the neighbourhood to join to set up the community garden.

“This would need good communication and people skills, plus lots of patience with people with different backgrounds who might come with other purposes in mind.

“They are great initiatives for community development and social bonding. Humans are naturally social beings, and spending time with others in a community garden can be greatly therapeutic,” she says. – by Sheela Chandran

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